November 28, 2015
I drove to the local BP station and convenience store for my morning “bold” Brazilian coffee. Take your own mug, it costs .84 cents; buy eight, get one free. And they grill lunch there: meatloaf sandwiches, chicken kabobs, turkey burgers. I love the place.
I loved the place.
On Saturdays, a group of six to eight mostly bearded, all white, middle-aged guys sit around tables and kid one another, and talk about girlfriends and/or marriage. The most jovial of the lot is the owner. I’ve been known to throw in a humorous observation, had the men slap me on the butt.
This morning, a young boy, perhaps seven years of age, sat in his dad’s lap and ate a doughnut, mostly oblivious to the talk swirling around him. I passed by the gentlemen and filled my travel mug.
What I overheard is verbatim: “You know, a kid gets shot, what, sixteen-seventeen times? We weren’t there; we don’t know the circumstances.” “That’s right. Probably the kid deserved getting shot seventeen times.” (Laughter.) “Well, yesterday they interfered with customers shopping up there. Cops are shutting them protesters down today.” “You don’t mess with Christmas.” “They charged that officer with murder—can you imagine that?”
My first instinct was to turn around and let them have it. I almost said: “Can you imagine a circumstance where your little boy there, assuming he didn’t have a weapon, would ever deserve to shot?” But the subject wasn’t guns. The subject was black people. By keeping my mouth shut, I endorsed the loose talk. I am guilty. I drove home mad as a hornet. I thought about going back. I didn’t. I am guilty.
I know for a fact that most of those men will attend church tomorrow, identify themselves as Christians. I know for a fact, those men would not talk that way in the presence of a black person. I know with certainty that Jesus weeps. I know the utter absurdity of imagining an unarmed white kid getting shot.
So I’m on my soapbox, in the safety of my house. I am a coward. I am the great-great grandson of William Jones, a storied leader of the Underground Railroad, Michigan branch, and I am a coward. I am sick to death of racism, but I am a coward.
I’m also on the fragile side; my neck is broken. If somebody challenged me, I couldn’t stand my ground. I could use big words and enrage them. But that’s not why I didn’t speak up.
I am afraid.